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Gunslinger Girl: Social Welfare Agency, I Really Like My Life Here. July 2, 2006

Posted by Samurai Tusok in Anime, Gunslinger Girl.

In cases such as these I'd like a hand. Don't wake me up without a master plan.

I was initially oblivious to the marketing appeal of Gunslinger Girl, an anime which features a prepubescent girl solemnly holding up a SIG-Sauer P239 as its primary promotional image. Yes, I am the special kind of numbskull who fails to notice the combination of submachine guns and forlorn innocence as a calculated attempt at moé appeal.

Gunslinger Girl’s premise is that of a near future Italy in which a counterterrorist group, euphemistically known as the Social Welfare Agency, ‘rescues’ young girls in critical physical condition and discarded by society. Then they turn them into doe-eyed killing machines with cybernetic enhancements.

It’s the kind of fiction-packaging whose depth is seems to be visible from the surface: “Does military exploitation know no limits?! God save the children!” The kind of conceptual substance that appeals to resolutely self-serious anime fans who think Ghost in the Shell qualifies themselves as deep-thinking existentialists.

However, this smattering of speculative fiction tropes becomes nigh invisible at some point, mostly because Gunslinger eschews high octane action scenes in favor of decorating each moment with the elegance of neoclassical Italian scenery and solemn piano music. As it stands, gunshots are few and far in between — with every bullet acting more as an infrequent exclamation point than as pure visceral thrill.

This is because the meta-sci-fi existential implications of Gunslinger’s premise are secondary to the interpersonal relationships and character drama. Rather than being concerned with what is ethically humane or not, the series chooses to focus on the girls’ traumatically sheltered lives and their arrested emotional development.

As a series of relatively self-contained stories, Gunslinger strikes an elegiac chord primarily through the awkward relationships of these girls, particularly with their Handlers, who act as paramilitary surrogate father figures, most of whose parenting styles are some variation of Tough Love.

If Gunslinger Girl can be faulted for anything, it is that it has no concern for anything resembling a larger plot or resolution. Even though each vignette is placed against the backdrop of a war between the fanatical Republican Faction and the morally ambivalent Social Welfare Agency, the relationship between it and the character drama is tenuous at best.

Inevitably enough, one starts to recognize that Gunslinger is not about bad-asses in kawaii dressing designed for people with a lolicon fetish. But rather, Gunslinger cuts to the heart of what what moé appeal is really about — the need to protect and nurture that which appears to be in need of protection.

These girls have nothing left to live for, but yet they are placed in a conscienceless existence devoted to murder. Thus, they are constantly working for the approval of a welfare organization that has little to do with the humanitarian, waiting for the day they die knowing that they can never grow up.